Why I Am A Rationalist
The Rational Habit Of Mind Is A Rare One
I am, in this age when there are a great many appeals to unreason, an unrepentantRationalist. I have been a Rationalist ever since I can remember, and I do not propose tocease to be so whatever appeals to unreason may be made. We have listened to a speech,by which I think we were all much moved, about the pioneers in the past who have donewhat they could to promote the cause of freedom of thought. I suppose it is for me tospeak about the great need of continuing this work in our own day, and about how muchthere is that remains for all who sympathize with its objects to accomplish. We are notyet, and I suppose men and women never will be, completely rational. Perhaps, if wewere, we should not have all the pleasures that we have at present; but I think completerationality is so distant a prospect that we need not be much alarmed by it, and the nearestapproach that we are likely to get is sure to be all to the good. I certainly find that there isa very great deal of irrationality still about in the world.While Professor Graham Wallas was speaking about the bequests that have been made tothe Rationalist Press Association I was thinking: What is its creed, what is its dogma, andwhat is going to be the, so to speak, doctrine that these benefactions are going to bedevoted to propagating? You have, of course, to be a little careful, when you findyourself landed with endowments and benefactions, lest you should become anotherendowed church. (
) As far as I can see, the view to which we are committed,one which I have stated on a former occasion, is that we ought not to believe, and weought not to try to cause others to believe, any proposition for which there is no evidencewhatever. That seems a modest proposition, and if you can stick to that you will be fairlysure that you are not going to become a sort of ossified endowed church. We ought not tocommit ourselves to dogmatic negations any more than to dogmatic affirmations; weought merely to say that there are a great many propositions about which men andwomen feel pretty certain, but, concerning which they have no right to feel certain, and itis our business as Rationalists to try to make them see that those things are not certain. Iam told that that is a very wicked position to maintain. I have here a book recentlypublished which I commend to your attention. You may or may not know that some littletime ago, under the auspices of the National Secular Society, I delivered a lecture on"Why I am Not a Christian." Now, It appears that I did not know why it is that I am not aChristian; and here is a book which will tell you why I am not -- by Mr. H. G. Wood,who is a somewhat eminent member of the Society of Friends, a body for which I havethe greatest respect. His book is called
Why Mr. Bertrand Russell is Not a Christian
. Itseems that the reasons are not those which I thought they were. He says in one sentence:"The main reason why he is not a Christian is that he simply does not know what religionis." One might say that Mr. Wood is not an Agnostic because he does not know whatAgnosticism is. After all, I had all the benefits of a Christian education, and he did nothave the benefits of an Agnostic education; so that possibly the argument might beconsidered two-edged. Nevertheless, I commend the book to your attention, and you willthen know why it is that I am not a Christian.